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We interrupt this most busy of horse sports weeks to slow you down and make you sigh. “Aaaaaahhhhh,” you’ll say. And for one hour you will forget how excited you were this weekend about Andrew Nicholson winning the Rolex Kentucky Three Day Event in Lexington. You’ll forget the elation of learning that the USA’s Beezie Madden had won the FEI 2013 World Cup of Show Jumping for the USA for the second year in a row.
Watch NATURE’s Legendary White Stallions airing Wednesday, May 1 at 8 p.m. (ET) on PBS (check local listings).
You’ll even forget the surprise and the smile that spread across your face when you heard that Germany’s lovely, calm and supple Westphalian stallion Damon Hill NRW had won the FEI 2013 Reem Acra Dressage World Cup with Helen Langehanenberg.
That sigh comes just as you catch your breath from all last week’s excitement and prepare for the equally-breathless coming weekend of the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials in England (with two riders vying for the Rolex Grand Slam) and that great raceday for the USA, the Kentucky Derby.
The pause and the sigh are important because, when you come right down to it, the tradition and history of the Spanish Riding School in Vienna ties all those events together, by pointing toward the past. All those sports are related to the value of the horse in war and sports were, after all, devised to prove which rider, breeder, army or nation had bred and trained the best horses for battle and military use.
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For centuries in Europe, each nation had its own system, its own specific breeding plan, its own special skills. Austria has excelled at keeping the past alive through the Lipizzaner stallions that still train in the middle of the great city of Vienna.
Sure, you already know all about the Lipizzaners and the Riding School and the movements, the quadrille, the uniforms, the music. But this hour-long PBS documentary is more than a travelogue of Vienna or a bucket list stopover for horse lovers.
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I’ve probably written as many or more articles about the Spanish Riding School as anyone–in the English-speaking world, at least. But when I previewed the show, I found that the producers and writers who designed this documentary found some new ways of looking at them.
The horses are portrayed not as an anachronism, not as a living music box of twirling horses and riders, but as a flowing continuation of historical breeding and training wrapped in a cultural quilt that is as international and contemporary as any modern art museum or stage performance.
Take a fresh look at the Spanish Riding School and remember how much you already knew and how much more there is to learn. Join me in front of our televisions on Wednesday night, May 1, when the PBS Nature series takes us to Vienna for the ride of our lives.
About the show: Nature is a production of THIRTEEN in association with WNET in New York for PBS.? For?Nature, Fred Kaufman is executive producer.??Legendary White Stallions is a production of ScienceVision and Satel Film in co-production with Servus TV, Terra Mater Factual Studios and THIRTEEN in association with WNET.